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Opinion: Israel Adesanya is still a ‘must see’ fighter, but the reasons why have changed

Fans shouldn’t be so fast to dismiss Israel Adesanya as “boring,” but it may be time to adjust expectations.

There was a time not that long ago when fight fans looked forward to an Israel Adesanya fight, and the feeling was something akin to the lead-up to the matchups of another legendary UFC middleweight champion: Anderson Silva. There was the anticipation of seeing something spectacular take place inside the Octagon.

Over time, however, it seems that suspense has been replaced for many by a sense of foreboding.

Today it seems far more regular to see fans describe Adesanya as ‘boring’ and ‘safe’ rather than ‘electric’ and ‘dynamic.’ However, I’d argue that those who believe watching the Israel Adesanya of 2022 is a more tedious endeavor than thrilling one are missing the point.

Instead of considering what Adesanya doesn’t do against the top fighters in the UFC’s middleweight division, consider instead what so many of his opponents are unable to do, and why. Adesanya has taken his time at the top to hone his skill set, training and fight IQ to shut down the best competitors the UFC has to offer.

Adesanya has held the UFC middleweight title since October 2019 (April 2019, for fans who want to count winning the interim crown as the start of his reign). With that—and his five title defenses—the top of the UFC middleweight roster has had ample opportunity to study him and his style. They have watched all the tape. They have trained for his strengths. They have searched relentlessly for weaknesses to exploit. In the end, every middleweight fighter the UFC has thrown his way has been left wanting.

Adesanya has been wearing a bullseye for more than two years. Every time an opponent has aimed at the target they have not only missed the gold ring, they’ve almost all failed to hit the outermost circles of that target. That’s what makes the ‘Last Stylebender’ a unique and remarkable fighter at this point in his career.

Instead of looking at Adesanya and asking for high flying action, perhaps it’s time to broaden the view of the UFC champ. Instead of focusing on what he doesn’t do, examine what he does. He makes the fighters who have been training specifically for him over the past few years look overmatched and bewildered, essentially like they don’t deserve to be inside the cage with him in a title fight.

I don’t know if that will change on Saturday when he faces Alex Pereira in the main event of UFC 281. Still, I won’t be the least bit surprised if Adesanya and his team at City Kickboxing defuse what is being called the toughest test of his UFC title reign by many. A man who has had the answers he needed to beat Adesanya in the past.

If the Nigerian-born New Zealander can go out once again and turn Pereira into a cautious or clumsy looking opponent. If he can slide past ‘Po Atan’ and become just the 8th champion in UFC history to collect more than five consecutive title defenses, that will be a fantastic achievement worth celebrating. Even if the fight itself isn’t the kind of all-out war that many hope to see.

UFC 281 takes place on Saturday, November 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPNews and early prelims on ESPN+. Follow all the PPV action with Bloody Elbow on fight night.